Ban Kok village finishes school upgrades with donations from Journeys Within travelers

Journeys Within travelers who visited the village of Ban Kok, Laos will be excited to see the upgrades their donations have made possible at the Ban Kok school site.

A new sidewalk and fence have recently been completed, providing the kids with safer access to education in this rural village.

From the Ground: Visiting a sea turtle hatchery in Con Dao National park, Vietnam.

With over 2,000 miles of pristine coastline, and thousands of off-shore islands, Vietnam is home to a wide arrange of endangered marine turtles. It’s a natural paradise that has been a nesting ground for many species over multiple generations. The protected, Con Dao National park is an archipelago situated less than 200 miles from the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. This island refuge is an important habitat for sea turtles that lay their eggs from April through September. The park presently protects 14 beaches which cover thousands of square miles of important turtle nesting locations. Some of the endangered turtles that nest here include the Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Olive Ridley.

Because sea turtles return to the beaches where they were hatched to lay their eggs, this park was critical in protecting marine turtles across the globe. This unique and diverse ecosystem also protects many species of specialized coral, dolphin and the endangered dugong, a cousin of North America’s manatee. In 2006 a delegation of Vietnamese UNESCO representatives surveyed the area and recognized the importance of saving this natural animal habitat, with future hopes of it becoming a World Heritage site.

During the breeding season, from July to October, the conservation rangers work day and night, protecting the sea turtle’s buried eggs and nests. Once the eggs are laid, rangers record their measurement and statistical information, attach tags to the mother’s fins and move the new eggs to a safe location for incubation. After 46 to 60 days of incubating, the rangers return the hatched baby turtles to the ocean.

Carefully controlled numbers of park visitors are able to witness the mother’s arrival throughout the laying season. Fortunate visitors may also be able to assist in the release of recent hatchlings. For every 1000 baby turtles, only one will grow old enough to continue the reproductive cycle. Hatchlings are released about 10 to 15 feet from the ocean. This rite of passage helps them find their way using sound and light from the beckoning water. This important step will help them to return to the same beach where they were born 30 years later to lay their eggs, just as their mothers did.

Here is a firsthand turtle account from Journey’s Within’s very own, April Cole.

——  I spent the morning relaxing at the beautiful Poulo Condor Boutique resort and Spa and met my guide at 3:30 in the afternoon to transfer to the Con Son Port. After a 45 minute wooden boat ride, I arrived at a sparkling patch of water just off the coast of Bo Dap beach for some snorkeling. The water was warm and the fish were plenty, and it was a great afternoon at sea.

After snorkeling, I was excited to continue my journey on to Con Son Island. This island is renowned for having some of the greatest concentrations of marine turtle nesting sites in the Con Dao National park archipelago. A short walk led us to the Bay Canh ranger station where visitors have the chance to learn about the mangrove forest, and its important role in the delicate environment on Con Dao.

Dinner was served at 6pm – and by dinner, I mean I paid $1 for a Cup of Noodles, and by 7:00; I joined an evening ranger talk on turtle nesting facts and etiquette for unobtrusively watching the mother turtles laying their eggs. The turtles give birth in the wee hours of the night, so sleeping was not much of an option. My rustic, off the grid accommodations, were set up at the park ranger station. Hammocks were hung in a shared sleeping space, but luckily I had the place to myself. I relaxed in my hammock, reading a book, letting the sound of the wave’s sooth me to sleep. It would have been much nicer if there was a mosquito net so the bugs weren’t so much a bother, but that’s something we’ll prepare for our guests in the future. The ranger station is the only human habitation on the island.  This authentic experience is not the typical night at the Four Seasons; realities of life in a wilderness national park reflect a simple life of few modern comforts and conveniences. This is a “Roughing It” real world experience. My excitement to see the turtles and the peace and quiet of no cell phones, radios or television, eclipsed my need for any luxury accommodations.

At about midnight, I was joined by a small group of tourists who came over for the evening and we were guided by a ranger out to the beach to await our first guest from the sea. Around 1am, the first mother pulled up onto the sandy beach. The ranger said she was the impressively sized Green Turtle, which can weigh in at roughly 650 pounds. These impressive creatures have the same lifespan as a human and will travel thousands of miles in open sea for over 80 years.

The ranger told us to wait until she had dug her hole to lay her eggs. We saw two mothers give birth that night and stayed up with the mama’s from about 1-4am. The ranger gently collected the soft eggs to bury them safely in the sand hatchery.

Thrilled and exhausted, I napped until about 5:30am when the ranger woke me to see a batch of turtle eggs hatch that had been incubating in the hatchery. The ranger gathered the little brood into a basket, and we each helped to release the little baby’s from the shore to the sea, to make their way in the world. Baby turtles are pretty much the cutest creatures ever. Watching the little turtles head out to the ocean for the first time was absolutely beautiful.

Guest Review from Kristine Janda and Kevin O’Grattan-Siem Reap is the perfect place to celebrate romance.

At Journeys Within, we are dedicated to custom designing memorable experiences throughout Southeast Asia.  We especially love it when we hear back from our guests who have had first class travel experiences, and are excited to share their photos and adventures.  This letter and these photos are from Journeys Within guests, Kristine Janda & Ken O’Grattan.  

We just returned home from our Asia trip. I just wanted to tell you what an unbelievably amazing experience we had with Journeys Within! Thank you for making our trip and anniversary extra special. We love the gifts, and we will be hanging the picture in our house as a memory of this great adventure.

Photo Credit: Kristine Janda & Ken O’Grattan

We loved all our guides. Mr. Sina and our driver were both wonderful. Mr. Sina is so kind, patient, attentive, and has such a great knowledge of Siem Reap and it’s many temples. He was in tune to our interests and made sure we had a great experiences. Our driver was also great, drove safely, and attentive to us. Our cooking class was a blast! We enjoyed every minute of it. We did not end up doing the bird watching due to the conditions, and we appreciated the change to ensure a great experience. Our trek on Mt Kulen was such an adventure! We’ve never trekked through a lush jungle like that.  Our guides were great, patient, very knowledgeable of forests plants and animals, and very attentive to our needs.

Photo Credit: Kristine Janda & Ken O’Grattan

We also had the most wonderful stay with Jaya House! Wow. They were so sweet and treated us like royalty. They made us feel very special in celebrating our anniversary with flowers and cake! The hotel grounds are so beautiful we didn’t want to leave. The entire staff was very nice and attentive to us and all their guests.

We are so amazed by Siem Reap and its people. Everyone we met was very kind and hospitable. We enjoyed all the food and loved all your restaurant recommendations.  Thank you again for helping us with our unforgettable adventure in Siem Reap. It’s become one of my favorite places in the world!

Sincerely,

Kristine Janda and Kevin O’Grattan

Introducing the “Refill Not Landfill” campaign

Refill Not Landfill logo

From the very beginnings of Journeys Within in Cambodia, we’ve tried to find a solution to the thousands of plastic single-use water bottles that accumulate over time. Like in many developing countries, the tap water in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia is not safe to drink, thus single-use plastic water bottles become the norm for visitors, and our guests were no exception.

For years all of Journeys Within’s cars and vans had a cooler in the back full of these environmentally-devastating bottles. Cambodia doesn’t have any plastic bottle recycling, so every bottle was ending up in a landfill, or worse, in the Tonle Sap or Mekong rivers.

Exploring Angkor
Andrea, Callie and Couper explore the Angkor temples with their Refill Not Landfill reusable water bottles.

At the Journeys Within Boutique Hotel we offered glass water bottles in every room and at meals filled up glasses with water, rather than use more plastic bottles, but it was a small dent in a large problem. At one point we ordered BPA-free water bottles and gave them out to each guest, but we soon realized that our drivers and guides were filling these water bottles up from single-use bottles and the problem wasn’t being solved – it was merely being hidden from our guests.

Skip ahead to 2016… Christian De Boer, now the GM of the amazing Jaya House River Park Hotel, came up with and promoted the Refill Not Landfill campaign, and like we had done many years ago, printed up bottles for each of his guests. Here however, is where Christian was able to come up with a real solution to the problem.

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Not only did he partner with tour companies like Journeys Within, but he also got restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues to set up refill stations. These refill stations consist of larger water bottles that have clean, filtered water and can be used to refill the smaller reusable bottles. So now, guests can have a Journeys Within water bottle, but get it filled up at their hotel, at their lunch stop and even at the circus that night.

On my July 2017 trip to Cambodia, the kids and I loved having our bottles and we made the most of so many of the refill stations. More and more partners are joining the community initiative and Journeys Within is so proud to be a founding member. Check out this video that highlights how a day without single-use water bottles in Cambodia becomes a reality…

ABOUT REFILL NOT LANDFILL

Refill Not Landfill aims to cut down on the millions of plastic water bottles discarded in Cambodia each year by offering an alternative: reusable aluminum bottles. Our informal consortium hopes to revolutionize the way that tourists consume water in a country where few plastic containers are recycled, with most ending up in mountainous landfills or piling up beside roads, choking the Kingdom’s waterways and littering azure fields with waste. Click here to read more…

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Refill Not Landfill bottles in action

Jaya House Goes Above and Beyond for Journeys Within Guests

Jaya House making a donation to the Landmine Museum

By Jay Austin

Since the official opening of Jaya House River Park in November 2016 we have watched this boutique 5 star property quickly escalate to the Number 1 property on Trip Advisor for Siem Reap. Journeys Within has a long-standing relationship with Jaya House General Manager, Christian Do Boer, who heads up the sensational team at this property and is the inspiration for many social and environmental initiatives the property participates in. Being a new hotel, there are always a few small kinks to work out on the operational side of things and Jaya House River Park has been no different in this sense, but it was when we received a recent request from a Journeys Within guest that the team at Jaya House really showed us how they go above and beyond…

We received a request from a family of 5 who had older children and were looking for a twin room with the facility to add an extra bed and inter-connect to a double room. This was one of these starting out ‘kinks’ as we realized that the interconnecting twin room did not have the space to facilitate adding an extra bed. Where most hotels would have denied the booking, or simply told us that the booking was not feasible, Jaya House showed their true colors. Enter Hotel Manager Kol Koy.

Kol has a long history of working in some of Siem Reap’s finest hotels and is truly a master in the art of providing exceptional customer service. Where other hotel managers would not have become involved in the situation, Kol met with his Engineering Team to see how they could best service our request. As a result, Kol, together with his Engineering Team completely transformed one of their connecting twin rooms by removing beds from their permanently concreted bases in order to accommodate a third single. He tried using a standard rollaway bed, but quickly concluded that the comfort level was simply not to the Jaya House standard. This resulted in the property purchasing a brand new, Jaya House quality single bed in order to accommodate our request!

The Jaya House Team installing the new bed for a Journeys Within guest
The Jaya House team standing by the completed task

The beauty of Journeys Within having an active office ‘on the ground’ in Cambodia enables us to facilitate these exceptional relationships with our suppliers who constantly go above and beyond to take care of our guests. The team at the Journeys Within Cambodia office cannot speak highly enough of the team at Jaya House who do everything they can to ensure our guests are not only comfortable, but surprised and delighted during their stay at the property. This is evident from the recent comments from guests in their feedback to us:

“We loved every minute! They are brand new and working out some kinks, but bent over backwards to please and accommodate our every need. We could have stayed forever.”

“This hotel was amazing! The food was great, the service was incredible. They made a card and a bouquet of flowers for our son who was sick, and sent up Coconuts every few hours.”

Jaya House making a donation to Small Arts Schools

It is a pleasure to work with a property who cares as much for our guests as we do and Jaya House River Park fits this bill to a tee! They also have some wonderful community and sustainability initiatives at the property that align nicely with the Journeys Within ethos on responsible tourism. Jaya House River Park is attempting to be Siem Reap’s first plastic-free hotel by being a main partner of the RefillNotLandfill campaign; 5% of their profits are donated to local charities and organizations including The Cambodian Landmine Museum, Small Art School, Music & Art School of Siem Reap and the Green Gecko Project and they are also active participants in the Ten Thousand Trees Project and a leader in regular Siem Reap Clean Up activities.

This is a hotel that is making extremely valid attempts in the community and environment around them and an organization that we are proud to partner with. Be sure to include Jaya House River Park in your next Siem Reap itinerary to give yourself a truly exceptional experience.

Jaya House Manager Kol Koy making a donation to Green Gecko